He waited 15 hours at Kabul International Airport, among thousands of people, hoping to escape Afghanistan with his life.

Jostling for his place among a crowd of strangers, the Afghan, at least, had someone on his side: An ex-U.S. military contractor in Louisiana who stayed on the phone through the night with his tired, desperate friend and former interpreter.

Finally, the Afghan made it through Abbey Gate, a main entryway into the airport, and onto a plane.

“It was like you were in a hell, and then you’re going to paradise,” the former interpreter said in a recent phone interview.

He was stunned to learn later of the suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. troops and at least 60 Afghans near the same airport gate just six hours after his plane left.

For safety reasons and to follow the policies of Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge, which helped resettle the Afghan in Louisiana, pseudonyms will be used to name the two men in this story: Adam for the refugee and Sam for the friend who helped rescue him.

A path to safety

Sam worked in Afghanistan for four years with a contractor hired by the U.S. State Department. Adam was the interpreter who bridged the language barrier for Sam and others.

The two men stayed in touch regularly since Sam returned to the states several years ago, sharing news about their families and how they were getting on.

Then, Sam said, in August came a different kind of communication. “He calls me and says the Taliban were marching to Kabul,” Sam said. 

Sam began a frantic letter-writing campaign to Congress members and President Joe Biden.

Adam was in danger.

After learning English at an early age from an American neighbor in Afghanistan and then continuing his studies at a private English-language school, Adam became an interpreter for the military contractor.

He had gone on to work in Kabul as a diplomat for the Afghanistan government to the U.S. embassy when things changed dramatically this past summer, as the Taliban took control of the country while American troops pulled out.

“The situation got worse and worse,” Adam said. His longtime friend in Louisiana, though, “always encouraged me," he added. 

By Aug. 25, Adam said, the situation in his homeland became so bad that he fell in despair.

“I was hopeless,” he said.

Adam spoke to Sam, who told him to drive to the airport in Kabul. 

Emboldened by his friend’s support, Adam fled.

He arrived at the airport by about 10 p.m. on Aug. 25. Some 15 hours passed before he made it onto a plane.

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Sam stayed on the phone with him throughout. 

“It was very dangerous and terrible,” Adam said. “He was telling me I’m going to make it.”

And he did.

A world away

With a host of other escapees on the plane, Adam first went to Kuwait, then to Spain.

He traveled next to Fort Bliss, New Mexico. After a 40-day stay, he boarded a plan for the final leg of his journey to Louisiana. 

Sam became his sponsor and helped him find housing when Adam arrived in late October. 

Adam secured a Special Immigrant Visa, one created by Congress to protect Afghan allies who aided U.S. troops. 

He said he’s waiting on additional paperwork and, when it arrives, will begin his job hunt. 

Sam’s letter-writing campaign, after he found out Adam was in trouble in Afghanistan, got one response — but it turned out to be an important one.

It came from Congressman Mike Johnson, who represents Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District.

Sam said Johnson — and one of the lawmaker’s employees in particular — “moved mountains.”

The employee sent cables to diplomatic channels in Afghanistan and to military contacts. 

Adam said that when he was at the Kabul airport on Aug. 25, pressed in by crowds of people, he was waving his documents in the air and calling out the name of Rep. Mike Johnson. 

“Suddenly a U.S. soldier just looked at my documents,” Adam said. 

The soldier, possibly a Louisianan who recognized Johnson’s name, “started nodding his head, Yes! Yes!” Adam said. 

That moment of recognition became Adam’s ticket out. 

“Fortunately, I could get inside the airport,” he said.

“It was a very happy moment.”

Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.